Jun. 04, 2008 - Issue #659: Nextfest
Re-conceptualizing the music charts
The project goes by the catchy title, “An In-Progress Chronology of Edmonton Bands, 1956 to 2008,” and it’s simultaneously as simple and devilishly complex as its moniker suggests. This in itself is nothing off the beaten Biesinger path—his graphic “infostrations” have appeared in everything from Vue to the coveted innards of the New Yorker magazine and global hipster handbooks NYLON and Monocle. They’re visual funnels for a wide range of his preoccupations, as likely to elliptically check cultural and political critiques as passions like music, science, social justice, and art, all rendered in inky, blocky, highly stylized representations that evoke a witty ’50s Italian eye. He’s the illustration equivalent of the sharp wag, a provocateur who swaddles elegance and whimsy in thoughtfulness.
“It was overwhelming getting to this point,” Biesinger confesses. “Very challenging. I still have phone numbers on my desk of people I could call for even more information. I’ve been only dealing with what people sent me and even that was overwhelming. That’s why ‘In-Progress’ is in the title—it’ll hopefully go on forever. Hopefully I feel like taking this to the next level or some other people step up who want to add something.”
If Biesinger gave himself the time to think about the chronology before he launched into it, the enormity of the task may have daunted him.
“Two months ago I received an email from Penny Buckner asking if I’d contribute something to an art show about rock ‘n’ roll she was putting on,” Biesinger recalls. “I wondered what I could do that wouldn’t just be cliché rock images for half an hour, then a kernel of this idea came. From Penny’s first email to her saying she liked the idea—that was about three hours. By end of the day I’d sent out a mass email to anyone and everyone I could think of who might be able to help. Anyone and everyone replied. The information started pouring in right away.”
Biesinger found that the volume of data necessitated ruthless decisions. “I developed a methodology of sorts as well as a conception of how to represent the information,” he explains. “The hazard was that what I liked was the easiest to follow up on. I’d like to think I can say I stayed away from personal favourites through following this methodology for determining who’s important: I included bands based on their public profile, and to determine that I looked at their output, touring, support from evidence like articles and news stories about them.”
Contenders were organized into horizontal chunky bars plotted along a timeline, with arrows and notes denoting relationships and personnel shifts. Biesinger gathered the supporting information into notes housed on his website (start at fifteen.ca/thechart/).
“You’ll find some are very far from my taste,” he points out. “No disrespect intended to Chris Wynters, but they’re not what I typically enjoy in music, and yet from 1993 to the present Captain Tractor hold real valuable real estate on the chart because they sold 30 000 CDs, through some hard work on their part. And you’ll notice none of my own bands are on it.”
The final print is 21’ by 1’, a long black and white timeline running through half a century, but a significant part of the project is online content, accessible to all.
“I’d be incredibly happy if people argued about who I neglected or who I chose,” the artist laughs. “Chances are, a lot more people know more than I did. I started seeing shows in 1996, and the first band on the chart dates back to just after WWII.”
In essence, this is Biesinger’s gift to all of us, his version of public art.
“This is participatory knowledge. It’s in that public realm. People feel a strong sense of ownership and connection to ‘their’ music scene. I’m very happy to receive criticism, but more happy to receive more information.” V
Fri, Jun 6 (8 pm)
Featuring the works of Jason Dublanko, Amelia Schulz McPherson, Justin Zawada, Christopher Robot, Raymond Biesinger
Music by Trigger Effect, Mad Cowboys, Secret Fires
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